Life in Pieces‘ Zoe Lister-Jones talks to Joey Moser about her chemistry with co-star Colin Hanks and making her feature film directorial debut.
Keeping a dry tone continuously funny and fresh can be a difficult task for any actor, but Zoe Lister-Jones makes it look very easy. For three seasons, she’s played Jen, a lawyer who marries into a crazy family on CBS’ Life in Pieces. Even though it’s nearly impossible to turn on your television and not be bombarded with a million and a half family sitcoms, Pieces succeeds because of its unique mini movie structure. Lister-Jones somehow makes you feel like you’re on the same crazy ride with her, and her droll delivery only enhances the situations in which she finds herself. The actress-writer-director will also be seen on the big screen as her feature film, Band Aid, lands in theaters this fall.
With a cast that includes Diane Wiest, Colin Hanks, James Brolin, and Betsy Brandt, it’s easy to get along on set. Even though the cast doesn’t always film scenes together, Lister-Jones commented on the bond the cast shares. Life in Pieces was renewed for a third season well before the second season ended.
“We were all pleasantly surprised that we got renewed as early as we did, so the celebration continues. We all love each other so much. It’s such a fun environment. It’s really a lucky environment to be in with such a fun show,” Lister-Jones gushes. “What was fun with the first season was that we dealt with different dynamics within our own families. Season 2 played across those dynamics. One of the strongest things about the show is that it messes with form and we can lean into that as performers.”
The writing team on a family sitcom can kind of feel like a family, so the writers are able to pull from their own lives to create hilarious moments on screen. It allows the actors to connect with the material in a personal way, but Lister-Jones hasn’t had any of her own life experiences showcased on the CBS show. Not yet anyway.
“Sometimes it’s based on real life instances from our lives. There’s an episode where Betsy’s character deals with the death of a goldfish. That was based on an actor’s real experience. Colin once told the showrunner about when he and his wife were crying as they left the hospital. It was obviously very joyful, but also they had this paralyzing fear that the hospital was letting them leave with this little baby. Nothing is based on my life yet. I haven’t shared anything with the writers.”
Lister-Jones has the enviable job of being married to Colin Hanks’ Greg, and they are best when they are keeping each other in line. Hanks sported some interesting looks this season including a scruffy beard and a missing tooth. Thankfully, they didn’t happen at the same time. While the additions to Greg’s appearance might make Jen hesitant to kiss him, the chemistry between the two actors never wavered.
“Which was worse? The beard. It was goat hair, so it was gross. Colin and I didn’t know each other at all before we started filming. It is sort of a happy accident that we really enjoy each other’s company so thoroughly. Because of the structure of the show—with the four stories—we spend a lot of time together,” Lister-Jones explains. “I mean, the family days are so much fun, but we spend a lot of time together. Sometimes very exclusively. It feels like a little play with the two of us, so we got to play around with each other. Wait, that sounded gross.”
While Lister-Jones has written film scripts before (she penned the script for 2012’s comedy Lola Versus starring Greta Gerwig), she will make her directorial debut with Band Aid, a comedy about a pair of musicians who use songwriting to air out the grievances of their relationship. Not only does did she write the script and directs for the first time, Lister-Jones also serves as a producer of the film.
“It was surprising how seamless the transition was, but it was a Herculean task. My intention in taking on all three of those roles was to have fun with it. And, lucky for me, it all panned out. It could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. I had previously written some features and directed my own stuff, and that felt like I was working those muscles. Taking this all on felt like the next logical step. It was such an incredible experience—the most gratifying experience of my entire time life. It felt like I was putting my baby out there into the world.”
After Band Aid made its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Lister-Jones took part of an all-female director’s panel that included Kathryn Kusama, Tina Mabry, and Meera Menon.
“What I learned was that I loved being on an all-female panel. When the first question was asked, we all waited for someone to respond. We were all so respectful of each other’s opinions and ideas. What was so important to me with Band Aid was hiring an all-female crew, and what surprised me was how many women were trying to do the same thing. It was a very interesting and very empowering thing. Thankfully more media attention is happening when it comes to all female film crews. It was very heartening to see women writing projects and taking them to the next step to create such an empowering environment.”
When it comes down to it, Lister-Jones is thrilled to be a part of any type of performing. She’s eager to create more opportunities for her own career as well as providing that mirthful commentary she’s so well known for on Life in Pieces.
“I love being a writer-performer, but there’s something very nice about being a vessel for someone else’s work. When you perform what you write, there’s an ownership and a specificity to your own work, but it’s always very fun to say other people’s words.”